Delphic Corporation: Manufacturer of Appliances and Electronic Equipment – Distributor-Dealer Sales Training

The Delphic Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri, was a leader in the electronics and appliance fields. Its exclusive business was the design, manufacture, sale, and, for large jobs, installation of this equipment. The Modern Kitchen Division manufactured a broad line of kitchen cabinets, dishwashers, and garbage disposals for residential use. These products were sold throughout the United States and Canada by a distributor-dealer organization, which was expanding rapidly to meet the increasing desire for kitchen modern­ization. The sales training department of the division had developed a vari­ety of training aids and was looking for additional ways to widen the scope and increase the effectiveness of its activities. Refrigerators and ranges were manufactured and sold by the Major Appliance Division.

The Modern Kitchen Division had sales of $38 million. No sales were made directly to ultimate consumers; all equipment was sold through fran­chised distributors and dealers by sixty salespeople who worked out of twenty-two branch offices. Delphic was one of the first to institute this type of distribution in the appliance industry, and executives were proud that many of the original dealers still handled the line.

Franchises were written for a specific product with an assignment of a definite territory, within which the distributor or dealer was respon­sible for the sale of that product. The distributor-dealer organization consisted of eighty distributors and two thousand dealers. Distributors were primarily merchandisers, promoting sales to their own organization of “associate” dealers, who were selected by the distributor, and con­trolled entirely by him. Dealers’ territories were nonexclusive and were subject to change upon written notice. Technical and sales assistance were rendered by the distributor, aided when necessary by Delphic field personnel.

Associate dealers were mainly appliance stores, department stores, and hardware stores; but plumbing and electrical contractors were also included. When selecting associate dealers, the distributor considered the prospective dealer’s location, both in the area and in the city, his credit standing, and his personal integrity. Delphic distributors met with keen competition for dealers from other manufacturers and had to offer more than just a franchise and a convenient warehouse location. The distributor had the Delphic reputation to offer but, in many cases, he was expected to finance the initial stock of equipment. Training in kitchen equipment sales and kitchen layout, and installation, were offered to dealers to enable them to become profitable.

Delphic’s sales volume more than doubled in the previous five years, and the number of retail outlets (associate dealers) increased in about the same proportion. Training of newer dealers became important to the suc­cess of the distributors’ expanded operations. Each distributor looked to Delphic for assistance, and much of the task of dealer training was shifted to the manufacturer.

Before the sales training department of the Modern Kitchen Division was organized, training was the responsibility of product managers. Under this arrangement, training was not given sufficient attention because of the pressing nature of other duties assigned to product managers—the design, development, manufacture, and sale of the various products, for instance. Although training was recognized as important, a comprehensive study of dealers’ needs was not made, and the overall training program lacked organization.

After the sales training department was formed, an analysis was made of training methods and materials, and this department became the cen­tralized source for all such aids. Sessions were held with distributors to determine their requirements, and there evolved a variety of packaged training courses, films, and a monthly informational service. A booklet entitled Dealer Training was published as a guide for planning a dealer training program.

It was decided that the sales training department could best satisfy distributors’ needs for materials and methods for training dealers with a program that covered three areas of interest: sales, installation, and man­agement, that is, “business development.” Accordingly, a series of packaged courses was made available under the name “Business Development Pro­gram.” Training courses were prepared for each of the three product lines sold through associate dealers: kitchen cabinets, dishwashers, and garbage disposals. Student packets were available for a nominal fee. Meeting guides were prepared to aid the instructor in emphasizing the important points and to indicate the amount of time and detail required for a particular phase of training.

One unit of the package training course on dishwashers was enti­tled “Selling Dishwashers.” This dealt with problems encountered in sell­ing home units and included selling fundamentals applicable to automatic dishwashing.

The material was in loose-leaf form, and a complete packet was pro­vided for each trainee. The course was built around nine selling steps:

  1. Get set to sell.
  2. Spark interest.
  3. Dramatize the need.
  4. Make the survey.
  5. Prepare the proposal.
  6. Present the proposal.
  7. Capitalize on objections.
  8. Get the order.
  9. Follow through.

Each step was elaborated on and detailed to apply to actual situa­tions encountered in the sale of dishwashers. For example, step 7, “capital­ize on objections,” listed objections that prospects might voice, and each had a well- thought-out answer. A recommended procedure for handling competition and price objections was outlined, and sample letters for “getting back in” were exhibited. Also included were sales arguments and approaches for use with the consumer, architect, builder, and real-estate agent. Sample proposal and submittal sheets were added as examples of recommended practice. Finally, the packet included a brochure that illus­trated advertising and promotional aids, along with booklets that repro­duced, in printed form, two sound-slide films used for selling dishwashers. One was for showing to the home owner, the other for showing to builders and realtors.

To introduce the new training material, sales training department per­sonnel presented the courses at meetings of Delphic sales personnel who presented the courses to distributor wholesale sales personnel, who then held meetings with dealer personnel for whom the material was primarily prepared. The first sessions were for the purpose of “training the trainer” and were considered highly successful. The printed material was sup­ported by films and/or sound-slide films, attractively prepared to appeal to dealers. The intention was to “sell” the dealer while training him or her to sell the retail customer. Training was a continuing activity, and many distributors recognized the usefulness of weekly training. Sales training was not overlooked, often constituting the bulk of the weekly training, and materials from St. Louis were used to good advantage.

An important feature of Delphic’s sales training program was the “Sales Planning Series,” which was made up of eleven separate units with companion films. The series concerned practical procedures and was a digest of successful selling practices followed by Delphic equipment sales personnel.

The eleven parts covered each of the nine steps in the sale, plus two preliminary steps, “Plan Your Time” and “Plan Your Sales.” A student packet and meeting guide were available for each section. In the packet was a printed reproduction of the companion film, interspersed with self­improvement exercises that the student was to think out individually. The “Sales Planning Series,” the backbone of the Delphic training program, provided basic selling instruction for the novice and for the experienced dealer’s salesperson, and served as a means for evaluating and organizing one’s sales practices.

Each month, a file folder called the “Business Development Service” was distributed, issues contained samples of new training materials, suc­cessful selling ideas, information on competitive activities, reports from other distributors, tips on getting and handling dealers, hints on improving personnel performance, advice on where to obtain training aids equip­ment such as projectors and flannel boards, and always a “Lost Sale” quiz, a cartoon-type lesson from Sales and Marketing Management magazine.

One feature of Delphic’s “Business Development” program was a sales control system for the retail salesperson. The system made it possi­ble to simplify record keeping on prospect activity and selling schedules. It also provided the sales manager with information on the salespeople’s progress.

Another development was being closely followed by the sales training department: the recent formation of the Atlanta Corporation. This wholly owned subsidiary of Delphic, staffed with personnel from the Delphic organization, took ever the distributorship in Atlanta and had an organiza­tion of associate dealers. From Atlanta’s experience, the home office execu­tives expected to learn more about the problems of distributors to provide better sales, engineering, and management assistance. This subsidiary also was to be a proving ground for new marketing techniques.

Source: Richard R. Still, Edward W. Cundliff, Normal A. P Govoni, Sandeep Puri (2017), Sales and Distribution Management: Decisions, Strategies, and Cases, Pearson; Sixth edition.

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